News / Africa

Sierra Leone Uses New Device to Improve Power Supply

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A "System Classic" device that detects faulty cables, Freetown, Sierra Leone, Dec. 24, 2013. (Nina deVries for VOA)
Sierra Leone's National Power Authority [NPA], which is responsible for providing the country with power, has deployed a new device that can detect faulty underground cables. The hope is to help provide electricity around-the-clock through the use of this equipment. It will have a great impact on Sierra Leoneons, who face blackouts on a regular basis.

People in Sierra Leone have been without consistent power since the 1980s. That was when demand for power began to increase. Then in 1991, civil war broke out, lasting 11 years. It left the country in shambles. Many power facilities were destroyed and people migrated to Freetown, the capital. This increased the population even more and caused higher demand than NPA could handle.

In Freetown, blackouts can occur on a daily basis and parts of the country still have no power at all.

December is the most festive season for Sierra Leone, and music can be heard all over as carnival parties heat up.

Faulty cables

If there is no national power and you do not have a generator, however, things can stop altogether during the evening hours.

That is where the faulty cable detecting vehicle that NPA has purchased comes in.

Edward Parkinson is one of the senior technicians who works with the vehicle. He said technicians used to have to dig up entire streets trying to find broken cables. "With this new equipment, it will reduce the down time and also it will help us locate faults at a faster rate."

He explained that the equipment in the vehicle can detect a faulty cable within a few hours. Previously, it could take weeks to figure that out.

Scott Gavin, the deputy general manager for NPA, said his hope is the vehicle also will help the country have power 24/7 within about two years, by detecting faulty cables quickly and repairing power faster.

"And because of the ease with which we can do it, improved technology, within an hour or two, depending on the length of cable, we are able to pinpoint the fault and then we can request for permission if it's along a road, so that excavations can take place," said Gavin.

The vehicle is able to detect problems with medium and low voltage. And because it can be done efficiently, this means customers will have power quickly restored, and not as many people will be affected while excavations are underway.

Effective tool

Gavin said this device has been on the market only for about one year, and it already is being used worldwide. It costs NPA about $230,000. He said it was built in Germany by a company called SebaKMT and although various similar models have been around for decades, this new one - known as the "System Classic" - had all the features NPA needed.

"This one we requested for a complete set, that would help us identify cables in the ground, do location [find] in the event of faults, and do the necessary tests all in one vehicle. So you drive the vehicle, it has a generator in case there's no power at that location, so you just operate the generator and you can power the equipment," said Gavin.

This is all good news to people like Momoh Kamara, a 33-year-old who works as a caretaker at a compound in the western area of Freetown. Like many Sierra Leoneons, he cannot afford a generator and so when there is no national power provided, he just has to make do.

"For example, when you have food, you are not able to store it more than one day, it affects that area greatly and overnight when you have problem, get a funny sound, like thieves, for you to detect [them], it's difficult because the place is dark and whenever they come around if the place is dark, he will have the chance to do whatever he wants to do, so it's terrible to live in a place where there is no electricity," said Kamara.

Kamara also said that when it's dark, snakes slither around some houses at night and will sometimes attack.

Gavin of the National Power Authority knows the cable-fault-detecting vehicle alone cannot bring back full power to the country, though it certainly can help.

And that assistance is something for which Kamara and many other Sierra Leoneons are hoping.

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